Where Did the Time Go?!

By Ron Rosenberg

Most days it seems like there's simply too much to get done. And if that's not enough of a challenge, try dealing with interruptions from other people and our own natural tendency to become distracted.

But when there's a deadline, we seem to be able to focus and complete the task at hand. So why not create your own "mini-deadlines" to help you keep focused?

Can a Tomato Hold the Key to Productivity?

You might not think so, but in the 1980s, a management consultant named Francesco Cirillo developed an interesting time-management technique.

Using a small tomato-shaped timer ("pomodoro" is Italian for "tomato") he recommended the following strategy:

  1. Break your work up into 25-minute blocks
  2. Set the timer for 25 minutes and begin the first task
  3. Don't let anything interrupt you during that time
  4. At the end of 25 minutes, take a five-minute break
  5. Repeat with the next task
  6. After completing four blocks, take a 15-minute break

There's a bit more to it than I just explained (you can learn more at pomodorotechnique.com) but the concept is a good one: break down large tasks into smaller pieces, give yourself a deadline, and don't let anything interrupt you.

There are several different tools you can use to track time directly on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. The one I like best is a Windows app called Zamora Time. It's easy to use; it has some helpful reporting tools; and, for maximum effectiveness, it doesn't let you "pause" the timer - if you stop it, you reset the 25-minute timer.

It Works Because It's More Than You're Doing Now!

Will this technique double your productivity the first time you try it? Probably not. But it will help you get more done each day, and this is true for several reasons:

  • Deadlines are Powerful - If you happen to oversleep when you have a plane to catch, I can promise you that nothing will distract you from getting ready, getting out the door, and getting to the airport. Why not create self-imposed deadlines that help you achieve the same kind of focus?
  • Distractions are Dangerous - I think we all fall somewhere on the ADHD spectrum, and I believe that for business owners and association professionals, this is almost an "occupational hazard." With everything we have to keep track of - coupled with a strong desire to create new ways to add value - it's hard not to become distracted by all the "bright shiny objects" we come across every day. That's why it's good to have an "unforgiving" timer that helps you to stay on task.
  • This is How Your Brain is Wired - We have a tendency to think that the key to maximum productivity is to start work and then barrel through, non stop, to the end of the day. In fact, various studies have demonstrated that we work best by taking small breaks throughout the day, and  this technique simply formalizes this concept into an easy-to-implement strategy.

Like all tools, it's not a "magic pill" that will solve all your problems, but I can tell you - from personal experience as someone who is easily distracted - that this method has helped me improve my productivity noticeably, and it might work for you as well.

Why not give it a try!